I’ve wanted to write a post on how to run faster and improve times for a while. Rather than take my word on how to run faster, I’ve teamed up with some of Cornwall’s finest runners to offer you the best advice (and take some notes for myself). They’re all committed to their running and achieve impressive results on a variety of distances and terrains. They put the work in and get results, and I’ve managed to pick their brains to find out how they do it.
Before we get down to their tips on how to run faster and bag those pbs, let me introduce the runners so you know who I’m talking about and why I’ve asked them for the low down on how to help you reach your peak performance.
Where do I start when it comes to mentioning Paul’s achievements? Paul runs marathons and ultras. He has has a knack for coming first. In 2018 Paul won the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles) in 25:35 and achieved a PB at this year’s London Marathon of 2:37. He’s set numerous course records over the past 2 or 3 years at several Cornwall based ultras, like the Cousin Jack and Arc of Attrition. He makes running 100 miles look like effortless but we know how much work he puts in.
Amy’s one half of #teamsole (hubby, Paul is coming up too!) and I first met them both at the local rubbish tip! She’s an inspirational runner who advocates for physical and mental wellbeing as well as putting her best running foot forward. Amy’s completed all 6 marathon majors, achieving amazing times in each of them. She currently holds a marathon PB of 2:56:47 and a half marathon PB of 1:21:59. Amy can often be seen at the Eden Parkrun with her husband, Paul, and still manages to run a super speedy 5k at Christmas dressed as a Christmas pud. Her instagram feed is full of inspiring running and race photos and she’s not shy of a challenge. She routinely offers post race reflections and analysis, sharing what’s worked and areas to focus on for the next race.
Paul, along with Amy, embarks on some serious training and running adventures. Like Amy, he’s a regular at the local Parkrun and you only have to read his Instagram posts to know how committed he is to running. He’s completed all the world marathon majors, securing a marathon PB of 2:47:34, and a half marathon time of 1:21:37. It’s clear that Paul’s always striving to run his absolute best. Like Amy, he shares his aspirations, learnings and race reflections on his Instagram page, which serve as learning points for all of us.
James can often be found lapping me at the local Parkrun, along with Amy and Paul. His running’s impressive. He took up running in 2014, entering one of the more challenging half marathons in Cornwall. Prior to that, James was all about the football but like us all, he caught the running bug. He’s achieved so much over the past few years and continues to work to improve his performance over different distances. So far, James’ marathon PB is 3:05, while his half marathon PB is 1:16:48. He’s motivated to see what lies ahead too and is conscientious in all areas of his training, racing and recovery. He recently represented Cornwall in the Gloucester 10k.
I asked Paul, Amy, Paul and James what they considered to be the key points in their training when it comes to achieving faster running times and bagging those pbs. While they all have their own way of doing things, some salient points came from all of them. If you get the foundations of your running right, your running times will improve.
Keep Your Sessions Varied
If you look at any training plans worth its salt, they incorporate different running sessions over a weekly period. All the runners I spoke to voiced the importance of these sessions and how they can lead to improvements in speed, efficiency and strength. The kind of sessions we’re talking about here are long runs, fartleks, tempo runs, and hill reps. Their effectiveness can’t be underrated. By doing regular speed work (such as a tempo run or fartlek) and endurance sessions (hill reps), you will ultimately run faster.
Each runner had a different plan for fitting these in. James talked about doing them every couple of weeks, or you could have one strength or speed session a week to keep it varied. Paul Maskell aims to do one of each of these sessions every week, time permitting. Paul Sole ensures his sessions are embedded between more recovery type runs to give his body time to adjust and, well, recover.
Sometimes it’s hard to fit it all in, and time is something we all have to juggle. Paul S. works on a 12-14 week training cycle, and factors in an easy week roughly once a month. During these weeks, Paul lowers the mileage and intensity in preparation for the next tranche of training and mileage increase. In fact, he’s seen an improvement in his running times since slowing down his recovery runs by about 2 minutes a mile. He also attributes these runs to remaining injury free. It shows how much difference little changes can make.
Train With Your Next Race In Mind
This seems like common sense, doesn’t it? If you’ve entered a road half marathon, that’s the surface you want to be training on. That doesn’t mean you can’t mix it up a bit but you want your training to emulate race day as much as possible. If your race involves you running through the night, practice running in the dark, for example.
Keep your eye on the distance you’re training for too. There’s no point entering a marathon and only training for half the distance. If you’re currently running about 5k and have entered a marathon, you’ll need to gradually increase your miles every week. Your long runs are important but don’t pile on the mileage too quickly. It’ll probably end in tears and injuries are more likely to happen.
Strength and Stretch
All the top runners do strength training and Amy, James and The Pauls are no different. Amy has a regular glute and core routine. These have helped improve her running efficiency and form, which in turn help her running times. By strengthening your core and glutes you’re also avoiding injury. Often with running and racing, it’s not how quick you are, but how strong you are that makes the difference.
When it comes to preparing for race day, getting the taper period right can make all the difference to your performance. James says he’s eases off the miles but keeps the intensity when tapering. Embrace this period if you can, it’ll stand you in good stead. Tapering sends Paul M a bit crackers but he knows if he’s on the start line chomping at the bit, he’s done it right.
Feed Your Body, Feed Your Runs.
We know fuelling right on race day is important, and with all things running related, you have to do what works for you. Personally, I don’t go for the carb loading, I prefer high fat eating all the time so I keep to that. James swears by a combination of carbs and protein. He’s also partial to a beetroot juice with an added Beet It shot on race day. I think whatever your eating plan on race day, you shouldn’t be introducing anything new, which brings me on to…
You don’t want to be doing anything new on race day. Not. A. Thing. Everything you wear, down to your undies should be tried and tested. No one wants the chafe kicking in at mile 15 of a marathon. This will give you reassurance and confidence on race day so you can run your best and enjoy yourself.
Listen To Your Body
Even though you have a training plan, all the runners I spoke to talked about the importance of being flexible and listening to your body. Don’t be hard on yourself if you need to adjust your miles occasionally. Paul Maskell recommends shortening some runs if you feel fatigued but also extending them on days when you’re on top form. Adjusting in this way will help in the long run. Besides, shaving a few miles off during one of your training runs doesn’t mean you won’t run your best on the day.
Likewise, James said that he sometimes runs on how he feels, which can be a controversial strategy. This allows you to tune in to your body and regularly monitor how your runs are going throughout and how you feel afterwards.
All the runners spoke of the need to take care of yourself in one way or another. One of Amy’s main recommendations for running your fastest is to have a 3 weekly or monthly massage to keep your legs fresh. Routine physiotherapy is also a good idea. Not only does it allow you to build a longstanding relationship with an expert who will get to know your physical vulnerabilities. It also means you can update any stretching and strengthening regime. Actually. I think we all see the physio, Cornwall Physio, you can find Lou’s website here.
Keep A Running Diary
Paul Maskell likes a running diary. He can look back and see what training patterns have worked for him and replicates these for his next event. You can be as detailed as you like too, documenting the shoes you wear, the food you eat before and during, and what strength sessions need more focus. We can learn things from every training cycle, and this is a great way to keep track of them all.
How’s that for a comprehensive guide to help you run faster? It’s clear that if you want to run faster. you need to put the work in. These runners are focused on their goals and improving their times. They keep their eye on the prize which motivates them to take their running to the next level.
There’s no doubt that we’re are capable of many great things. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish your running goals.
When it comes to strategies and training tips, what’s helped you run faster?